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Ulmer: Examing Leafs Fans Obsession...

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs
for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club’s greatest leaders.

Now that he has signed on with the Leafs for another year, I want to
address why so many Leafs fans were obsessed with the idea of trading
Mats Sundin.

I say were. I should probably say are,

It can’t honestly be a question of productivity. This was the 11th year out of 12 that Sundin has led the club in scoring. His 76 points was down a whole two points from the year before. Man, that age thing can really bite into a guy.

Yes, Sundin is 36 and no one plays forever. But the Leafs next-highest point total for forwards belonged to Alexei Ponikarovsky. He had 45 points, 31 fewer than Sundin.

You can argue, quite rightly, that Sundin couldn’t find the net in his last dozen games, a crucial state of affairs since the Leafs fell a point-short of the post-season. But I don’t know that a late season-slump indicates incoming senility. Sundin still managed a point a game during that dozen games and the year before he was torrid down the stretch.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge any member of Leafs Nation speculating, conjecturing or otherwise thinking out loud about any move. That’s what makes following a team so fun.

And some of the trade talk comes, I believe, out of a reverence for Sundin. Leaf fans, pessimistic about their club’s fortunes (and they always are until the Leafs score first) want the best for a stalwart captain, a towering talent and an old-school gentleman.

The eternal search for a storyline has seen a steady procession of players, Ray Bourque, Rod Brind’Amour, Dave Andreychuk, Teemu Selanne, winning a long-sought Cup in the precious final few moments of their careers. Why not, the thinking goes, give Mats that chance while gaining a substantial asset in return?

And here is where the rubber meets the road. Whether they admit it or not, Leafs followers cannot forget that Cliff Fletcher was cagey enough to trade a 27-year-old Wendel Clark to Quebec to acquire, I’m sure you know, a 21-year-old player of vast promise named Mats Sundin?

Here’s the problem with that. The Mats Sundin for Wendel Clark trade was a freakish anomaly and the chances of something like that happening again are about the same as Rosie O’Donnell going out for America’s Top Model.

In the NBA, strict CBA rules dictate that salaries coming in must be in line with monies going out. Not so hockey. If you are trading a premier, big-ticket player, you don’t want another comparable salary coming back. The best accommodation is draft picks which almost never compel teams to spend in the short term.

Remember the trade deadline. Ryan Smyth, still coveted by Leaf fans, went to the New York Islanders for middling prospects Robert Nilsson and Ryan O’Marra and a first rounder.

Todd Bertuzzi went to Detroit for junior player Shawn Matthias and conditionals. Keith Tkachuk went to Atlanta for a spare part in Glen Metropolit and first and second round picks. The key element in the deal that sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville: first and second round choices.

There are no Mats Sundin for Wendel Clark deals out there.

So do you really want to trade Mats Sundin, still the best position player on your team, for a kid who considers a disposable razor a long-term investment.

I didn’t think so.

Write to my spot on the Leafs Message board under ask's Mike Ulmer.

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